Old secateurs fixed!

Although I’d bought new secateurs, it still irked me that the old ones no longer had enough tension. Not least after all the effort I put into cleaning them. So when I heard Repair Sheffield were running a Repair Cafe at Heeley City Farm, I rushed over there on an otherwise grey Easter-weekend Saturday to see if they’d fix them.

In the end, it took three of us, two pairs of pliers, a pair of mole grips and an adapted table vice:

But we managed it. We were able to both reassemble and re-tension the W59s. And not only are my secateurs repaired, but the effort required from three people to manage it has gone some way to restoring my confidence too!

(Thanks to Repair Sheffield for fixing this and other people’s items. They’re there every month—so back there in May—and you should definitely go along to support, whether by bringing something to fix, donating a few quid or even helping out!

Not in Sheffield? You’re missing out, but there might be a repair cafe nearer you! That website isn’t exhaustive (at the time of writing, Sheffield isn’t on it) but it might help you discover one nearby.


With a spring in my skip

Today’s sunshine felt like the true start of spring. And it also had me personally feeling bold: bold enough to consider diving in two nearby skips.

Skip-diving is perfectly respectable in my eyes—preventing items from spending millennia in landfill is a moral act—but I’m always keen to ask the owners first: not only is it a legal requirement, but it’s also very neighbourly! So any boldness required on my part is a social boldness, which I have to say is not always in my power to summon up.

Today, though…. I rolled up my sleeves, shrugged my shoulders, and set off down the road in the direction of the skips.

In the first, I’d seen a water butt a few days ago; in the second, a garden fork, and two bits of cut scaffolding timber that might help site the aforementioned butt. Sadly, closer inspection revealed that the water butt was fatally cracked, and the fork now long buried under other rubble, too heavy to shift. But this minor escapade has emboldened me in a longer-term way, I think: I’m now more keen to try my hand in the future, when something like the garden fork is obviously a time-limited steal.

If I come knocking on your door, then, be kind: if anything, I’m saving you pennies on your skip hire costs!


Verbascum rosette folded, like summer wound to its start;
Start to wind summer out: buds grow and split apart.

(There was a recent haiku challenge which, as this blog is still in stealth mode, I couldn’t take part in. so this is sort of a post-challenge warmup for next time.)

Sheffield Botanical Gardens, winter into spring

Last weekend the Welsh Rose and I had our two sets of parents visiting. On the Sunday (forecast sunny) we showed them Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

A fantastic effect had been achieved with drifts of spring bulbs (mostly crocus) under trees:

Mound of crocus

Further down the hill, a traditional bedding-plants display was also providing early-spring interest. I’m not particularly keen on the effort required to do a lot of bedding, but this is part of the garden’s link with its own history and is done really well:

Bedding plants

A Prunus subhirtella was in bud, ready to flower; it made me pine for the one I’d left behind in Cogges:

Prunus subhirtella buds

There was amazing, scarlet new growth on this Acer palmatum “Sango-kaku”, sprouting from dusky-pink branchlets and grey-pink branches, losing colour as it aged towards its base:

Acer palmatum "Sango-kaku"

Blue-and-yellow asters were peeking out from underneath shrubs elsewhere, adding to the variety at ground level:

Blue and yellow asters

And because growth was still checked a little by winter, there were often lovely vistas through the park; like this one, from near the rose garden:

View from rose garden across to the fountain

Even so, in those bushes off to the left, there was one of the first rhododendron flowers I’ve seen this year. I’m not mad-keen on the everyday rhodo varieties, but the acid soil around here is perfect for them and they really do seem to be having something of a good time, despite the cold:

Rhododendron in bloom

Roses were starting to bud:

Rose bud

And this beautiful, young Prunus dulcis “Ingrid” was already blossoming its heart out:

Prunus dulcis "Ingrid"

A close-up of those gorgeous flowers:

Prunus dulcis "Ingrid"

As we rounded back up towards the glasshouses, we saw buds on the horse chestnuts, excitingly sticky to the touch:

Horse chestnut buds

And more bedding plants, again as part of the garden’s theme:

Bedding plants

SBG is always an amazing garden, and its free access gives it a different feel from botanic(-al) gardens elsewhere, like Oxford’s. I only wish the on-site cafe’s management had taken as much notice of the weather forecast as everyone else: despite the best efforts of the lovely members of staff there, the six of us couldn’t wait 45 extra minutes for quite simple food, when two of us had a train to catch!

But we’ll be back, SBG; we’ll be back. We just might bring our own sandwiches next time.

First planting and the ecopotagator

On Friday I did my first proper veg planting of this growing season. Much as I love garlic, I don’t quite count them, as they were planted along with the ornamental bulbs at the start of what’s felt like a long, wet, dismal winter.

Here’s my first round of planting:

  • Broad beans “Super Aguadulce”: 24 plug cells; in the growhouse.
  • Lettuce “Tantan”: a seed tray, with 30-35 seeds; in the growhouse.
  • Carrot “Parisian” (the weird rounded ones): a drill of 125cm to thin later; in one of the decking-board planters left behind by the previous owners.

A couple of days later, I planted more in the growhouse:

  • Rainbow chard: 20 plug cells.
  • Lettuce “Tantan”: 20 plug cells with 2–3 seeds in each.

You can see the locations of both planter (covered with black tarpaulin, weighed down with bricks) and growhouse (bright green) in the following picture:


Exciting as it was to start planting, I appreciate pictures of watered compost aren’t visually very stimulating. So here’s something a bit more exciting: the Welsh Rose bought me an ecopotagator for Christmas, and I planted that up with basil.

The compost for it comes in a small puck, which expands when you immerse it in water:


The base forms a small, well-drained pot for said compost:


Later on, you can disassemble it and turn the top bit upside-down, to form a bigger pot plus saucer.

Here’s the whole ecopotagator, potted up with the basil seeds included in the pack, with the measuring jug as a lid to keep the moisture in:


It’s an interesting experiment: the hardest bit has been finding somewhere in the house consistently 10-15 degrees, also with sunshine. The second hardest bit has been stopping myself calling it an ecopotager, which gives it a decidedly confusing French feel. We’ll see if I get any actual basil out of it.

Two unassuming Islington gardens

A week or so ago I went to a conference in London, related to my (non-gardening) day job. My cheap hotel was near Old Street roundabout; the conference was at City University London. This meant that, for three mornings in a row, I passed by two* unassuming urban-Islington gardens.

The first garden proper was King’s Square Gardens. This was quite a utilitarian space, with a playground, locked-down community centre and somewhat trodden turf.


But the mossy hard landscaping formed a good structure for some really nice planting, even in early March. This mixture of euphorbia, skimmia (?) and maybe photinia burgeoned out from the beds as if it were green July growth:


Birch, willow and other trees were a good foil for the occasional high-rises nearby:


Closer up, the beds were filling with muscari:


(which always slightly weird me out, like waterlily seed heads.)

The second garden, in front of and surrounded by City University’s buildings, was Northampton Square Gardens. Again—probably thanks to students!—the turf had suffered over the winter, but it was still a pleasant space:


The beds were overflowing with white daffodils, which always seem slightly classier than their twittish yellow cousins:


A water fountain—now sadly in slight neglect and not working as far as I could tell—still explains that Charles Clement Walker laid out these gardens for the public:


More background about Northampton Square here. On one of the spur roads leading to the (rounded) square was this amazing plant:


Flowering its heart out:


If anyone knows what it is, then do say! [Edit: it could be a Sophora chrysophylla?]

Neither of these gardens were RHS Chelsea showstoppers, but they each of them brightened up the neighbourhood, and provided important, greened, planted public space. A little lung, a little place to sit, a little oasis of calm. I suppose the moral is that, wherever you are in London, then while you’re often not anywhere very green, you’re never too far from it. And we should look after these spaces; because once they’re gone, they’re gone.

(*Two and a half, if you include the triangle of—private?—green between Lever St and Mora St, and the occasional planters containing, among other things, these tiny narcissus, no more than 20cm high:)


Crocus quickie

A quickie while I recover: any day now, I was thinking to myself, the Crocus “Spring Beauty” I planted was going to not just flower; but the flowers would actually open!

Then I actually looked at them during a day working from home, and realised that they opened every day:


Crocuses just go to sleep at night, is all. How cute is that?